ABSTRACT

“THAT our said Sovereign Lord shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offences, contempts, and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner spiritual authority or jurisdiction are or may lawfully be reformed, repressed … most to the pleasure of Almighty God, the increase of virtue in Christ’s religion, and for the conservation of the peace, unity, and tranquillity of this realm.” Such were the objects, as defined in the Act of Supremacy, which the King, armed with his two-edged sword of temporal and spiritual authority, now set out to accomplish. They were as vague as they were ample; the Supreme Head might think that he had been girt with these weapons to reform abuses which heretics cast in the teeth of the Church, or he might imagine that he had been called to extirpate heresies which feebler Popes had failed to crush. Cranmer looked for the one consummation, and Gardiner hoped for the other; and the parties which followed their lead fought a twelve-years’ 89fight for the control of the royal supremacy and the direction of England’s ecclesiastical policy. Henry held the balance, inclining now to this side, now to that, as his political or personal ends made it desirable to cultivate friendship with Protestant or Catholic powers. When, in 1539, the King threw his whole weight into the scale against the New Learning, he did so partly because, as Bishop Stubbs has said, 1 he “symbolised consistently with Gardiner and not with Cranmer,” but partly, perhaps, because he saw that unless he redressed the balance the Protestants would predominate, and the equilibrium, on which his power was based, would be destroyed; and, as a matter of fact, the balance did turn decisively in their favour as soon as Henry VIII. was removed from the scene.